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The Patriots have had their share of contract squabbles over the years, and rarely have they given in too far to players' demands. It's just the way they have done business — even now that we have entered into uncharted grounds with no salary cap currently existing in the NFL.
So there should be little surprise that Pro Bowl OG Logan Mankins and the team are at odds right now and that Mankins very well could choose to sit out when training camp rolls around. Mankins wants to be paid in the neighborhood of the deal recently given by the Saints to OG Jahri Evans (seven years, $56.7 million), and the Mankins camp says the Pats' best offer has fallen 20 percent short of that.
The guard market has exploded in recent years for a few reasons, which has raised the stakes in the Mankins negotiations, and there's little question that he is one of the league's better performers at the position. But with QB Tom Brady still unsigned past next season and the economic landscape in the league far from clear, all signs point toward further loggerheads between the team and Mankins.
In the team's June minicamps, the Patriots lined up with a modified offensive line: from left to right, Matt Light, Nick Kaczur, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Sebastian Vollmer. The good news with this setup is that it includes five linemen who started at least eight games last season. The Patriots have been trying to figure out how to get Vollmer, perhaps their most impressive tackle last season, on the field, and this situation achieves that.
On the flip side, Kaczur, last season's starting right tackle, hasn't played guard in a few years and has done very little on the left side in regular-season game action. Of course, the Patriots possibly have other options there if Kaczur fails. Dan Connolly has proven to be a versatile reserve, and Rich Ohrnberger is intriguing, though he's probably at least a year away from competing for a starting spot.
But what happens if Mankins holds out and another starter gets hurt? Then the depth really gets challenged. Light is strictly a left tackle, and most scouts believe he's in decline. Mark Levoir has stood out as an extra tackle, but is he starting caliber? Connolly is the backup center, but he hasn't had a lot of time there with Koppen fairly entrenched.
There is no immediate end in sight to Mankins' frustration, and the odds are that he and the team will not come to an accord by the start of camp. The Patriots appear to be in decent shape replacing him at the moment, but any further shifting might set the offensive line back considerably.
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